Freakonomics a Chart-Topper

On the list of illegally downloaded e-books, that is.

Here’s the Washington Post with the story, and here’s the N.Y. Times.

The underlying study claims that more than 9 million copies of books were illegally downloaded last year.

Mike B

What? That's it? No analysis on how much revenue was lost or gained by this? Come on, if anyone can do a good analysis on the actual reduction in revenue from piracy it would be the Freakonomics team.

Don't forget to compare the lost revenue with the revenue lost from traditional library lending and used book websites like Amazon and to put things in perspective.

Chris Markl

this is a sign that readers of the book understand the concept of 'free riding'.


I would imagine if the concept of a public library were invented today, you would hear similar doomsday stories from the book publishers about lost revenue.


I was wondering how the researchers got from 9 million illegally downloaded copies to $3 billion dollars in losses to publishers. Those numbers don't match. But then I noticed the NY Times article actually says that more than 9 million copies were downloaded illegally in "the final months" of last year. Very different than 9 mill for an entire year. I think the first sentence of the WashPo article is misleading.

William G

What about Superfreakonomics? Perhaps people are brushing up on the original before they download the sequel?

I hope you guys don't mind the lost revenue, but I borrowed Freakonomics from a friend. It just so happened that Superfreakonomics was released a month later, so I bought it for my Kindle. The only thing I can't figure out is where to put my autograph bookplate...

Alex K

Could this have anything to do with the global warming debate? (i.e. people wanted to read the article on geoengineering to form their own opinions on the controversy but weren't interested in reading the whole book?)

Or maybe it's proportionally pirated, and since it's just so popular, it came out on top ;).

But most likely, economists are just cheap...


In a world with zero piracy, how many of those 9 million would have actually bought the book? Some, of course, but I'd reckon a fairly small percentage.

Now, of all the people who pirated the first book, how many were inspired to buy the sequel?

The numners would be nearly impossible to divine, but it's not out of the question that, overall, piracy has lead to more sales than it's lost.

Ben Cass

I'm looking at the NYT article, and the numbers are a bit surprising.

The first quote "A study ... estimates that there were 9 million illegal downloads of copyrighted books in the final months of last year."

Then the second "... although not every pirated copy represented a lost sale, the potential loss to the publishing industry could be as high as $3 billion."

Are they claiming each book is potentially worth $333? Is the $3 billion figure counting every book ever pirated? I wish they would make it clearer how they come to that number.


You probably feel ripped off, but look at it from the consumers perspective:
- Many people may not be willing or able to buy the book at your publishers price point.
- The cost to create a digital copy is nearly zero, yet your publisher & the distributor charge a hefty fee for the ebook format. The price for legal downloads of other digital content is closer to 1 dollar.
- Ebooks are encumbered with drm which limits how the buyer can view the content, what devices it can be loaded onto and whether it can be shared or backed up. An illegally download ebook can be viewed/read on nearly any digital device and can be copied when a user upgrades their hardware.

Perhaps you could convert some of those illegal downloads into electronic sales if you lowered your price and opened up the format. This strategy seems to be working well for apple.

I'm surprised you give top billing to the post, given that you work for the times. Conservative bias much?



I agree with Mike B. I would appreciate some good analysis on the topic. For example: of those 9 million people who downloaded the book, how many would pay for it, if it wasn't available for free downloading?

Rick Matz

If I already own a physical copy of a book, and want an electronic copy for my reader, as a convenience, I certainly don't want to buy the book a second time.


Congratulations, Freakonomics just learned that Price = Marginal Cost.


What does the author make from the sale of a hardcover book? I've seen estimates in the range of $2.00

Sounds like there is some room in the market for $3.00 or $4.00 downloads.

$10.00 doesn't strike people as an attractive price when the hardcover can be found for $2.00-$3.00 more. The hardcover is transferable and available for resale. Just giving the once read hardcover to a colleague would generate $2-$3 of goodwill.


I make use of my public library. I didn't pay to read Freakonomics, and I won't pay to read Super Freakonmics. It's not that I'm opposed to paying for good books; it's that I'm opposed to paying for something I can get for free.

Actually, if the economic reality of my life were different, I'd have a hardbound copy to keep on my shelf.


If you have ever been to Barnes & Noble .. they let you stay there and read for as along as you want.

I actually read Freakonomics on my my lunch break in 4 days. Is that Pirating ?

That lead me to buy the Book & Audiobook of Freak. The Book & Audiobook of Superfreak.. It also got me into Malcolm Gladwell books

I Guess my Piracy has really Cost me a Lot of Money

Jirka Lahvicka

Based on the numbers in the study, Freakonomics is certainly not a chart-topper. Also, I am not sure about the US, but my country generates no illegal downloads at all, because downloading audiovisual files (music, movies, books...) is 100% legal. Atl least the study specifically says that projected total retail value is not equal to total financial loss.


C'mon Dubner, step up. A thoughtful, careful analysis of this issue is long overdue. Does piracy really hurt an author? Even when it means that author becomes more well-read and recognized? How is piracy different from public libraries or buying used books from Amazon or my local used book store? Some great questions have been raised by other commentators here--I'd love to read your take on them.

Adam Kennedy

As much as I don't mind paying for knowledge, I don't really want to pay for it twice. So I paid for the manufacturing and knowledge component of the original physical book, and in addition only the digital manufacturing cost for the ebook (zero).

Walk On

Perhaps it is as others have stated, the cost of the book is higher than some are willing or able to pay. Barnes and Noble has the right idea though. Allow people to stay in the store as long as they like to read a book. I've bought more books that way, and left books I was genuinely interested in because I had no ability to read through and see if it was a book I felt was worth owning. Owning books has a price tag for me as an asthmatic who has to clean the bookshelves and every book on them every few weeks to keep the dust down enough that I can still breathe. I have an extensive library, but I am extremely choosy about what I will and will not purchase. E-books are a godsend, but I don't want to pay full price or even half price for a book that doesn't have any serious manufacturing costs when considering that publishers now require submission to be made to them in e-format, knowing that they then keep accepted and completed work in e-format, and that the cost of maintaining the servers and databases is actually fairly minimal in comparison to the revenue generated by the works themselves. The book companies aren't losing out on that much money overall, neither are the authors of this book. Nevermind the money the authors have made on book tours, speaking engagements and other opportunities generated by the publication of Freakonomics.

Sorry guys, there's no sympathy here. At least you know that some people out there are interested enough in your writing to risk legal penalties to read it.



numbers are always misleading, the readers and authors here know that well.

I confess, i'm one of the terrible criminals who downloaded the book illegally last year. What did that lead to? I enjoyed it so much I went out and bought a copy for my dad who would have never otherwise read it. How many of those illegal downloads led to increased viewers on this site here? How many will go out and buy a copy of Superfreakonomics (me again).... just remember to think about it fully before pointing castigating fingers